Book Launch (4/24)  

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Stories of Love from the Empires We Call Home  
Book launch for Perris, California: A Novel
Author Rachel Stark in conversation with
Susan Straight,and Alex Espinoza
FREE • Wednesday, April 24 • 7 PM (doors open at 6:30)

Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts  
3824 Main Street, Riverside, CA 92501

Rachel Stark’s debut novel Perris, California (on sale March 26; Penguin Press) centers on one of the most indelible female characters in recent memory. As a girl, Tessa is abandoned by her parents and left to live with her abusive stepfather and stepbrother. She survives by finding reserves of strength in herself, and by the surprising, transformative love of another teenage girl, Mel, who sees through Tessa’s tough exterior to the vulnerable, scarred, loving woman inside. When she suddenly loses Mel, too, Tessa stumbles into a saving grace of a different kind with Henry and his mama, Angie, and becomes a mother herself who is loving, tough, and attentive. This familial existence somehow carries Tessa into adulthood—when, at twenty-seven and pregnant with her third child, she runs into Mel, who has just returned to Perris after years away. Then, she’s forced to reckon with the very foundations of the life she’s built.

Set in a part of inland southern California that is rarely written about—a sprawling rural region brushed up against mountains—and filled with violence, tragedy, tenderness, and courage, Perris, California is the gripping story of Tessa’s journey from trauma to healing. Stark grew up in Perris, and the novel is deeply informed by her experiences living there in the nineties. She writes movingly and unflinchingly about women living in a mostly unseen America and their unvarnished courage. Tessa recalls such unforgettable characters as Bone Boatwright in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Ruth Langmore in Ozark, and Penguin Press couldn’t be more excited to introduce readers to her story.

Rachel Stark grew up in Perris, California. She received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from University of California, Riverside, and her master’s degree in creative writing at University of California, Davis. She currently resides in southern Colorado where she writes, runs mountain trails, and teaches yoga.

Susan Straight was born in Riverside, California, where she still lives with her family. Her memoir, In the Country of Women (Catapult Books, 2020) was a national bestseller. It was named a Best Book of the Year by NPR and CodeSwitch, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and a Finalist for the Clara Johnson Prize for Women’s Literature. Her latest novel is Mecca (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2022).

Alex Espinoza (he/him/his/they) is a queer writer with a disability. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico––on Kumeyaay original lands–– to Purepécha parents from the state of Michoacán and raised in Southern California, on Gabrieliño-Tongva land. His debut novel, Still Water Saints, was published to wide critical acclaim. His second novel, The Five Acts of Diego León, was the winner of a 2014 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He is the author of the nonfiction book Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime.

This activity is supported in part by the City of Riverside and the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov.

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